For as long as Kathy Vanden Bosch of Port Charlotte can remember, the little teak wood box has been a prized possession. What made it really special is it sat on her father’s dresser until he died. She was told as a child, it was made from the deck of the battleship USS Arizona by her uncle when he was in the service at Pearl Harbor during World War II.
It wasn’t until last week when the Sun published a story about John Thomas, an old Marine who served in Pearl Harbor after the Japanese attack and made a similar box for his wife from the same Arizona planking, that she understood more about her teak box and how it came to be.
“The problem with my father’s story was, I could never figure out and I never asked him, how my uncle made it from the USS Arizona if it was sunk at Pearl Harbor,” she said. “I even went to the trouble to look up the Arizona’s manifest and my uncle’s name wasn’t listed.”
What Vanden Bosch learned from the war story last week was that the Navy was clearing the debris from around the Arizona shortly after the attack, including part of its teak decking, to begin work on the war memorial. The wood was placed on shore.
Thomas and his buddies, who were Marines working in a woodworking shop at Pearl, put some of the teak in a pick up-truck and hauled it back to their shop to make souvenirs. He made a jewelry box for his wife, who passed away in 2001. It’s one of his favorite keepsakes.
“Her uncle would have had to have been a Marine or a Sailor to gain access to the Arizona’s teak decks. Her box was probably made in the shop where I worked or in the Navy yard at Pearl,” the 89-year-old Leatherneck explained.
“My uncle’s name was Donald Newman,” she told the old vet as she compared her smaller wooden box to the one he made for his wife. The color and grain of the wood were almost identical.
The box her uncle made for her father was approximately six inches long, four inches wide and about four inches deep with rounded corners. There was an irregular round knob fashioned from a small piece of teak wood screwed to the top for a handle.
The jewelry box Thomas fashioned for his wife was larger with an inlaid border around the top’s edge. A brass Marine Corp emblem was attached to the top as a handle.
“I wish to goodness I could figure out who your uncle was,” the old man said as he looked at the two wooden boxes from long ago sitting on his dining room table.
“I’m sorry you don’t remember him,” she replied.
Doodads her father kept all these years were still in her little wooden box. A round metal badge with his picture on it from the Irwin-Pedersen Arms Co. in Michigan, where he worked during the war, a handful of pennies, some of them Indian heads, an old tie clasp from the ’40s, a stainless steel matchbook cover–mementos from her father’s life decades ago.
Her teak box has a place of honor on her bedroom dresser just like it had when her dad was living and she was a curious little girl who coveted the historic relic.
“The box will always stay in our family. I may give it to my younger brother,” she said.
“After reading the article in the paper at least I finally know how my uncle got the Arizona decking to make the box for my father. I was just blown away when I read the article. It put the pieces of the puzzle together.” Vanden Bosch observed.
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Florida on Thursday, November 4, 2010 and is republished with permission.
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